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Starhawk Hands On Preview

Real-time strategy elements in a 3rd person shooter could make this a unique online experience.

As the spiritual successor to Warhawk, LightBox and Santa Monica Studios hope to evolve online warfare through their PS3 exclusive, Starhawk. The public online beta launched earlier this month for all PS Plus members and will be open to all Uncharted 3 owners on January 31.  The game will be released with a wide variety of online multiplayer modes as well as an offline single player campaign this May.

The public beta gives us Plus members a taste of Starhawk’s ingredients by dipping into Capture The Flag (CTF) and Team Deathmatch (TDM) modes on a couple different maps. Both modes in the beta allow 8-on-8 matches across large maps. The maps feel a bit too large to only be housing 16 players, but the full game is supposed to have 32-player online combat, which seems like it would feel just right.

I started with CTF mode and was quickly reminded that I suck terribly at these “Hawk” titles.  The game is played in a 3rd person view and has a fairly generous auto-aim mechanic, which lends nicely to the arcade feel of the game. I didn’t pay enough attention at first and every enemy in my sights took advantage of their easy aiming to annihilate me. I learned to be cautious and started to test out the many weapons and tools of the game. I quickly discovered the true meat and bones of the game: the “Build ‘n Battle” system.

At any given time, you can access a pop-up menu that allows you to build all sorts of goodies to help you and your team out in battle. With the push of a button you can build a garage to buy cars from, a dock to buy ships from, a sniper tower, or even a giant wall to block enemies with. This “Build ‘n Battle” system does wonders for what otherwise might feel like a generic 3rd person shooter. Building your own structures on the go is the main strategic aspect of the multiplayer; it turns a regular CTF match into a real-time-strategy tower defense mixed with 3rd person shooting. It will be interesting to see how people learn to work together to build strongholds, or to see if players learn ways to exploit Starhawk’s newly added mechanics. In any case, the “Build ‘n Battle” system is a welcome invention.

My favorite addition to the game is the transforming mech vehicle called a “Hawk”. A Hawk is a mech suit that transforms into a flying jet – reminiscent of Starscream from The Transformers series. They are very easy to fly, very easy to control in mech form, and swapping forms happens at the simple push of a button. Furthermore, ground troops have the ability to arm themselves with homing rocket launchers that help keep a balance between Hawk and infantry in battle.  The Hawk is a ton of fun to control and I found myself constantly wanting to jump in and fly around the battlegrounds.

The TDM mode, much like CTF, feels like any generic TDM, but the “Build ‘n Battle” system allows you and your team to customize your play style as you see fit while in mid-battle. I had a lot of fun with TDM, but I think the 8-on-8 matches of the demo stopped it from being as fun as it could be; it will be nice to revisit TDM with 16-on-16 matches.

I’m still learning the ropes in Starhawk, so dying was a regular occurrence during my play through. However, respawning in Starhawk is actually pretty cool. While respawning you will see an overhead map which allows you to choose where to spawn within a limited area. When you respawn you fall from a pod high above the battle, giving you a quick eagle-eye glance at the battle below before you land and engage in combat. Even cooler, you can control your pod as it falls to the ground, so you can actually aim your pod at enemies and kill them if you’re lucky enough. I was never able to pull off a pod kill, but I once ended up the brutal victim of a falling pod.

The graphics are pretty nice, nothing groundbreaking but everything looks consistent with high contrast in a bright and varied color palette. The sound is also pretty good, not as impressive as the bullets and explosions of Call of Duty or Battlefield, but it still captures the loud rumblings of a war.

If you liked Warhawk, then Starhawk will probably be an easy sell. If you’re not familiar with the series but are itching for some online play, I’d definitely keep Starhawk in mind. Its “Build n’ Battle” system may be one of the few innovations found in the beta, but it’s one definitely worth trying. I had a blast with the beta and recommend keeping this game on your radar leading up to its May release.



 

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